Category Archives: GLBT fiction

“THE CONSTITUTION”— Four Neighbors

“The Constitution”

Four Neighbors

Amos Lassen

“The Constitution’ is set in contemporary Zagreb in a large apartment building which has seen better times. Living there are four people who have been neighbors for several years, but have been careful to remain complete strangers to each other.

Vjeko (Nebojsa Glogovac) is in his fifties and is a Croatian teacher who has been ostracized and ridiculed because he is gay. His only respite comes when he wears his favorite and remembers the good times he spent with his late fiancé, who died a premature, painful death. His father, who was once a high-ranking Ustasha (a neo-Nazi group) officer during the Second World War, has never accepted his homosexuality and has worn his son down yet, Vjeko now looks after him, reminding him of all the hardships he put him through while growing up.

One night, as Vjeko walks the streets of Zagreb as Katarina, he is attacked by a pack of haters and is taken to the hospital, where he is welcomed by his neighbor, Maja (Ksenija Marinkovic). She not only helps him to recover from the beating but also replaces him as a caretaker for his father, who is laid up in bed after having endured an above-the-knee amputation to both legs. As a thank-you, Vjeko agrees to read the Croatian constitution to her dyslexic husband, Ante (Dejan Acimovic), who needs to pass an exam in order to keep his job as a police officer. Since Vjeko is Croatian, he is prejudiced against Ante because of his Serbian origins, but as the two get to know one another, they both gradually learn the true meaning of the Croatian constitution.

“The Constitution” explores a series of social, political and ethnic issues still unresolved in the former Yugoslav territories. Vjeko is a plucky, finicky teacher and a kind friend, but he has spent his life pretending to be someone that he is not because he has been afraid of being physically persecuted and stigmatized. This has made him quite bitter. Ante and Maja are a couple who are low on cash and are trying to get all of the permissions they need to adopt a child. Our four characters all live in the same building, but share very different backgrounds and takes on life and this is a wonderful metaphor for modern-day Croatia. At the core of the film we find hubris and prejudice and we see these as the main causes of a society that was founded on wrath and hatred. Even the nicest people fall victim and harass and oppress good people.

Writer-director Rajko Grlic shows us a slice of Croatian society without didacticism. Now what is really unique here is that Vjeko is not just openly gay but he shares his father’s extreme right wing and Ante is really offended by his bigotry. When he finds that nothing has officially been done about the attack, he takes it upon himself to investigate and bring the guilty persons to justice  to prove that all Serbs are simply not as bad as charged. 

At just about the same time, a local psychopath who has been planting dog sausages with glass in them all over town and Ante is worried about his pet dog which is his child substitute.

We also see that the anger and hatred directed at ethnic Serbs seem to be worse than the physical violence against members of the LGBT community. The cast is extremely talented and the actors do an excellent job portraying the resentment that seems like it will never stop completely even if the fighting has ceased.  This is a subtle and totally compelling film.

“Where He Lay Down” by Anthony Ramirez— An Unwavering Sense of Self

Ramirez, Anthony. “Where He Lay Down”, Black Magic Media, 2017.

An Unwavering Sense of Self

Amos Lassen

Grayson has always known exactly who he is. He is “intelligent, witty, often drunk, Jewish, and deaf”. He cannot deny any of these traits. When he was just four-years-old and heard his mother says his name for the first time and until he received his master’s degree and became a physician assistant, his strong sense of self has been with him. However, when Grayson moved to Willsboro to begin his career and then met Aidan who was a nerdy engineer and friend of his roommate’s, things changed. Suddenly everything Grayson thought he knew about himself is questionable. He suddenly found himself unable to concentrate on his work and every time Aiden came near him, he had a strange feeling. Grayson then began to struggle to understand why life would not stop throwing problems at him. Remembering that he is deaf is important here and we see that it was years before he was able to hear for the first time, and years after that before he could speak like everyone else around him. He certainly never expected to have feelings for another boy, and unlike his deafness, there’s nothing he can do to translate his feelings into something he could understand.

It took some help from his best friends Max and Will, and his roommate Amelia before Grayson was able to go on a journey of self-discovery to answer the question he wasn’t even sure he could bring himself to ask about whether he was gay or not.

What a beautiful read this is and for anyone who has ever wondered about who he or she is, this is a must read. It is a book filled with drama, humor, compassion, and love and Anthony Ramirez is a wonderful storyteller. We are all aware of how difficult it is to find someone to share our love but we often forget how difficult it is to love ourselves.

Because of being born deaf, Grayson had an extra problem but he later found himself among the hearing thanks to a cochlear implant. This he can turn off or on as sees fit and it allows him to move “from an internal space of intense silence to the disorienting chaos of the noisy world of the hearing”. As far as he knew, he had always been straight and then to his surprise, he fell for a man. He had been rooted to one city, but then found in a different place with different thoughts about the future. His journey is one to a life beyond categories.

I love finding new authors who thrill me with their prose especially being as old and jaded as I am. Ramirez has given a shot of adrenalin to gay literature and those of you who are writing now are going to find it difficult to reach his standards; the standards he sets with this book. This book is not just beautiful, it is a gem to be cherished.

 

 

“The Man and the Mask” by Alexrod— Threatened by Anger

Ironrod, Alex. “The Man and the Mask”, MLR, 2017.

Threatened by Danger

Amos Lassen

Alex Ironrod writes of love and lust, passion and submission, sadism and masochism in England in the 1750s a time when men took what they desired. Captain Jamey Todhunter is a disgraced army cavalry officer who has done well as a highwayman He meets Sir Michael Taplow, a young aristocratic merchant who becomes his submissive apprentice, Michael is slowly taken into a web of sexual submission and criminal training. However, when their most daring robbery in London goes awry, Michael must decide whether to submit to the sexual tortures of the prison warden to save his master, or see Jamey hanged. The two men manage to flee to the American colonies and first become merchants in Boston. Later, they built a horse farm in western Massachusetts yet even in the New England wilderness, their relationship is threatened, this time by a new and unthinkable danger.

This is quite a read and a look at the historical and the erotic. I had not read Alex Ironrod before and now I plan to read all that he has written.

 

“Unknown Horizons” by CJ Birch— Memory Loss

Birch, CJ. “Unknown Horizons”, Bold Strokes Books, 2017.

Memory Loss

Amos Lassen

Lieutenant Alison Ash steps aboard the Persephone, knowing that in doing so, her life will never be the same. In less than three weeks, the ship will dock at the Posterus and the most important journey humankind has ever undertaken will begin. Alison knows that so many pleasures she has had in the past will become part of her memory and never happen again and neither will she ever again see her family. She has been trying to hide her memory loss from others but in doing so she puts the entire mission in jeopardy. We learn that this mission is the very first generational ship. The mission and her new attraction to Captain Jordan Kellow will change her life forever.

Here, for our characters, Earth is a distant memory for some and/or just a dream for others. As a child, Lieutenant dreamed of living on Earth, but now has been assigned Executive Officer aboard the first generational ship of the Union Fleet. The mission has been years in the making and the Posterus will lead some to a new, inhabitable planet, but it’s going to take 100 years. Alison sees this is as the opportunity of a lifetime. She really wants to leave her family’s legacy (and her recent memory loss) behind. 
Soon she is drawn to a beautiful and guarded woman, knowing that it is forbidden to take up with others in the company and, in fact, is forbidden. Of course has no real control over how her heart behaves.

Ash’s memories begin to return to her and she discovers that the Posterus and all 45,000 on its inhabitants just might be in serious danger, and that she may be the reason.



This is a bit of science fiction with lesbian romance thrown in but it is important to know that this is the first book in a series and in that way you are not disappointed if issues are not resolved. Both the romance and the tension are intrigue build throughout the book. We do know that Ash and Jordan are aware of the possible doom of the mission yet they have to be emotionally solid to deal with the situation. There is certainly physical attraction between the two women and that is frustrating, especially since they are not allowed to act on it. Ash is a serious worker and is always ready to give of herself to help someone and Jordan has a difficult time dealing with it.

The women also have to deal with the Burrs who are mechanically altered humans who fought in the final battles for the domination of the now desolate planet Earth. Most of the Burrs are over 100 years old, and their leader has a plan for Ash and the Posterus. This is a story about the nature of love and we read of growth, love and courage.

“Death Goes Overboard” by David S. Pederson— Lies, Secrets and Scandals

Pederson, David S. “Death Goes Overboard”, Bold Strokes Books, 2017.

Lies, Secrets and Scandal

Amos Lassen

Small-time thug Gregory Slavinsky is a small-time thug who borrowed $25,000 from businessman/ gangster Ballantine. After missing a loan payment, Slavinsky booked a weekend cruise on a Lake Michigan steamer, which sails from Milwaukee and has stops in Chicago, Mackinac Island and Ontario Canada. Ballantine and his bodyguard, George. Also booked the cruise in order to make sure Slavinsky doesn’t escape into Canada with the money. Also on board or Mr. Alex Whitaker and Mrs. Vivian Woodfork (his elderly aunt), Detective Heath Barrington, his working partner, Alan Keynes and undercover policeman Grant Riker are there to monitor the “criminal element.” When a body goes overboard and the money is missing, no one knows if it is suicide or murder. Another question that everyone seems to have is where is the money now. And where’s the money?

This is by and large a murder/mystery that is set in 1947, a time when

homosexuality was still considered a mental defect with the distinct possibility of one losing your job, getting arrested or “put in an institution and diagnosed as diseased if caught. Pedersen really introduces us to two men who find a way to deal with the difficulties of being gay and living a happy life. It is the mystery holds our interest throughout while at the same time we get a look at gay men in America after WWII.

The plot unfolds through the eyes, ears and perspective of Detective Heath Barrington and the mystery aspects of the book keep us guessing. Ballantine and Keynes are up against gangsters, con artists, and seductive Grant Riker, a fellow policeman who could come between Heath and Alan and upset their romance. 

“Sacred Band” by Joseph D. Carriker, Jr.— Gaining Normal Lives

Carriker, Jr. Joseph D. “Sacred Band”, Lethe Press, 2017.

Gaining “Normal” Lives

Amos Lassen

Rusty had been a kid during what came to be known as the golden age but he remembers his idol, Sentinel saved lives and righted wrongs before he was outed by scandal and that forced him to live in isolation. Then when a gay friend of Rusty’s who was living in the Ukraine goes missing, Rusty is forced to acknowledge that there are some places where the law doesn’t protect everyone. He then manages to find and recruit Sentinel to help him find his friend. However, the disappearance of the friend was just one move in a terrible plot against queer youth. The characters are so wonderfully drawn that there are times that it feels that they are right here in the room with us.

This is also a look at those who are marginalized and sit on the fringes of society. We become very aware of the struggles of the LGBT community and its members who have to deal with real world issues. Joseph Carriker Jr. mixes fantasy and reality here.

The plot itself is suspenseful and addictive and the book is hard to put down. I actually read it in one sitting.

“Saints+Sinners 2017: New Fiction from the Festival” edited by Paul Willis and Amie Evans— An Anthology

Willis, Paul and Amie Evans editors). “Saints+Sinners 2017: New Fiction from the Festival”, Bold Strokes Books, 2017.

An Anthology

Amos Lassen

Since I could not make it to the Saints and Sinners Literary Festival in my hometown of New Orleans, I did the next best thing and got a copy of the anthology of short fiction. I haven’t really had a chance to look at it yet but I know it will be a good read. Of course, it won’t be the same as seeing old and new friends and attending panels and parties but it will have to do.

This year the selections are:

  • Moonshine by Michael Chin
  • The Gay Restaurants of New York by William Moeck
  • The Gods Are Stacked Against Us by Sheila Morris
  • Jesus Year by Dale Corvino
  • Must Love Animals by Louis Flint Ceci
  • Temporary Adhesions by P.D. Walter
  • Leaves by James Penha
  • Curo The Filthmonger: A Tale of Art and Survival in the Cold Embrace of Outer Space by J. Marshall Freeman
  • Passing Through by John Morgan Wilson
  • Obituaries by Thomas Westerfield
  • The Fool by Ellis Anderson
  • Oni and Marie by Debra Curtis
  • Slaying the Dragon by W. C. Smith
  • Beauty Marks by David James Parr
  • Bear Food by Alise Wascom

They are led off with an introduction by Michael Thomas Ford.

“Timber” by Dale Lazarov and Player— A Sticky Graphic Novel

Lazarov, Dale and  Player. “Timber”, Bruno Gmunder, 2017.

A Sticky Graphic Novel

Amos Lassen

‘In “Timber”, a third wheel bachelor goes on a lonely hike after his partnered friends disturb his sleep by having early morning sex in the campgrounds.  After completely losing his way in a magical forest, he meets an uncannily-masculine threesome of lumberjacks who take him to their cabin for rescue of a different kind … and reveal their true, devastatingly hot natures in bed’.

“My Cat Yugoslavia: A Novel” by Pajtim Statvoci— A Young Man, a Mother, a Boa Constrictor and a Cat

Statvoci, Pajtim. “My Cat Yugoslavia: A Novel”, translated by David Hackston, Pantheon, 2017.

A Young Man, a Mother, a Boa Constrictor and a Cat

Amos Lassen

When a young Muslim girl is married off to a man that she hardly knows in 1980s Yugoslavia, what was meant to be a happy match quickly goes wrong. Right afterwards, Yugoslavia is torn apart by war and she and her family flee to Finland, where her son Bekim grows up to become a social outcast, It was not enough that Finns are suspicious of foreigners but is a gay man in an unaccepting society. Aside from casual sexual escapades, his only companion is a boa constrictor that he lets roam around his apartment even though he is afraid of snakes.

One night, at a gay bar, Bekim meets a talking cat, who also moves in with him. This cat is witty, charming and manipulative creature and manages to get Bekim to take a journey back to Kosovo to confront his demons and make sense of family’s history. This journey allows Bekim finally to open himself to love and he finds in quite an unexpected place.

This is a novel about “a snake and a sexy, sadistic, talking cat; online cruising and Balkan weddings; the surreal mess of identity; the things that change when we change our country and the things that never change; the heartbreaking antagonism between fathers and sons; the bewilderment of love”. Pajtim Statovci is original and powerful as he writes about life as it is today. He gives us a layered look at the life on a man who is marginalized and he does so with insight and meaning.

We have two story lines. One is told by Emine, a young Muslim girl in Yugoslavia. The other line is told by her son, Bekim. Emine’s story is fascinating and realistic but it is also horrifying at times. When a young man notices her walking on the road, Emine asks her to marry him (to pit it succinctly) and his family offers all kinds of financial help. We follow the story (in installments) through the years, including the move to Finland. While her life was terrible, we learn about life in Yugoslavia and as a refugee in Finland.

Bekim’s story is a realistic tale of a very lonely young gay man who lives alone with a boa constrictor and we see how he interacts with other men, the problems with his father, and how he returns to Yugoslavia after a number of years. He meets this talking cat who dresses like a human but I had a bit of trouble understanding about this talking feline. I figured that this is a whimsical story but then it became quite serious as the stories begin to alternate and we realize that we are reading about different cultures, different languages and different values.

The writing is beautiful as is the prose but I felt something was missing. I now understand that it takes a little time for the story to set in and suddenly it all becomes very clear and I realized that this was quite a reading experience. It is an allegory and a look at those who live their lives on the fringes of society challenging us to “break the conventions of structure and characterization”.

 

 

“A Token of Time” by Ethan Day— A Test of Time

Day, Ethan. “A Token of Time, ED Books, 2017 reprint.

A Test of Time

Amos Lassen

The recent murder of Zachary Hamilton’s lover brought about some very strange happenings including his relationship to mow dead and legendary matinee idol, Marc Castle. As he tried to figure out the star’s death and the mystery it, Zachary comes into contact with an ancient relic that carries a lot of history and folklore. This changed Zachary in every way possible and challenged everything that he had ever thought to be true. I am not sure how to characterize this novel because it crosses genre lines. It is a romance with a touch of the paranormal as well as a mystery. We begin was a tad confusing but with a bit of patience we arrive at a fascinating story.

The romance between Zac and Marc is written about beautifully and we share the intensity of it as we read. Here is a story about love and loss and what sacrifice really means. It is quite funny in parts and while I am not one who really reads paranormal novels, the way time travel is handled here is amazing.

Categorizing this book is  difficult because it crosses genre lines again and again. It has murder, mystery, violence, magic, love and romance! It took me a bit to get into the story but once I did, I could not stop reading especially about

the romance between Zac and Marc. It was wonderfully written and we can almost feel the care with which Ethan Day wrote it. The romance builds slowly and beautifully with Zach and Marc being wonderful examples of love. This whole time travel theme could have been absolutely ridiculous by Day was able to control it and keep it within bounds. All of the minor characters are wonderfully drawn and I found myself caring about them as much as I cared about the main characters. Quite simply, I can say that I loved this book.